How to Order a Helping of Sanity

My family had a banner moment. Get that trophy ready.

shutterstock_27729742To kick off the long weekend, I made the decision to go out to eat. I skipped lunch on Friday to get my hair cut, and so I walked in the door that evening starving.  Taking the time to prepare a meal felt like food deprivation times ten.  And yet despite my hunger pangs, I was actually annoyed by my decision. The girls were really wound up, and I confess, I cringe at the thought of disruptive children in restaurants. And my cringe turns into a downright scowl when those children just happen to be mine.

But to my surprise – my girls hopped in the car, and I only had to ask once. Then they fastened their own seat belts. We arrived at the restaurant, and they waited quietly before we were seated. Then they sat down. My girls ordered, my oldest remembered to look the waitress in the eye, and all three girls threw in a couple of “pleases” and “thank yous” throughout the course of the meal.

It hit me. We had arrived. We were now a family capable of eating out together, without highchairs and coloring books and diaper bags full of “entertain me” tricks. I looked at a few of the families around me struggling to stave off children’s tears and tantrums while grown ups took one last bite of their entrees, and I remembered how hard it was, and I marveled at how easy it had become. And then, as most mothers do, I couldn’t help but think I would love one more hug post-tantrum, one more set of scribbles on paper that represent a plane or a princess or a portrait of me. For a brief moment, I wanted that time in my life, including those painful trips out to eat, back.

For those of you who are still there, here’s a list of tips for eating out with toddlers, courtesy of

Leave your fears at home. Most people don’t mind children in restaurants as long as they aren’t disruptive. We’re not talking four-star, staid establishments here. There are probably plenty of informal and excellent restaurants at your disposal. Moderately priced ethnic restaurants, trendy university hangouts, casual but elegant dining – these are all good choices. It’s okay to check them out!

Set reasonable expectations. Your child won’t be perfect, quiet, neat, and adventurous at first. Eating out is a skill and as usual, practice makes perfect.

Take the edge off. Feed your child a little something in the car on the way. Alternately, ask the wait staff for bread the moment you arrive.

Bring a little kit of supplies (toys, food, coloring books). Stock your wallet with emergency stickers and bandages for entertainment.

Don’t try to sneak your baby in. Introduce your baby to the host/hostess and say, “Zoe is really looking forward to your wonderful food!”

Sit near the door. If your child cries, take him or her outside immediately. Be firm with your child that he or she cannot reenter the restaurant until calm and quiet.

Take a walk immediately after you order your food. This could be around the restaurant or outside.

Set limits about where your antsy toddler can toddle. Around your table is fine, but the aisle is off-limits, as are other people’s tables.

Drape and cover. You might want to carry a small plastic drop cloth for under baby’s chair, especially if you know your chosen dining destination has nice rugs. Wait to shake until well outside.

When ordering food, don’t forget your child. A side order or two will make your toddler feel special and may actually land her something she likes. Little kids tend to enjoy food that comes in tiny bits (noodles, beans, peas, blueberries, cut-up fruit) and many don’t like their foods to touch each other.

Give your child tastes of your food. If you treat food and eating as an adventure, your child eventually will too.

Offer to clean up under the high chair when you’re done. The restaurant staff will refuse, but they’ll appreciate your offer.

Don’t ever change a baby or toddler at the table.

Leave a big tip.

Try to enjoy and appreciate. It doesn’t last long!

1 thought on “How to Order a Helping of Sanity

  1. when my kids were younger and they left HUGE messes, we always left a big tip. Most people don’t know, but wait staff tip out their bus staff and bartenders. I always felt bad to leave behind the mess – but a little relieved too.

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